Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.25 (1831) [20:49]
Variations sérieuses Op. 54 (1841) [11:54]
Songs Without Words:
Op. 62/6: A major [2:00]
Op. 30/6: F sharp minor [2:20]
Op. 85/4: D major [2:24]
‘Reiterlied’ in D minor [1:46]
Op. 67/1: E-flat major [2:33]
Op. 38/2: C minor [2:05]
Op. 38/6: A flat major [2:44]
Op. 19/1: E major [3:07]
Op. 67/4: C major [1:47]
Op. 53/4: F major [3:09]
Martin Stadtfeld (piano)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
rec. live, 19 July 2012, Rheingau Musik Festival, Friedrich-von-Thiersch-Saal, Kurhaus Wiesbaden, Germany (Concerto), 6-9 July 2012, SWR Studio, Kaiserslautern, Germany (solo piano)
SONY CLASSICAL 88725466322 [56:46]
Martin Stadtfeld hit the headlines in 2002 becoming the first German pianist to win the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig. This Gackenbach-born pianist has made a number of recordings including several of the music of J.S. Bach of which he is considered something of a specialist. I attended an excellent concert last May at the Dresden Music Festival with the assured Stadtfeld playing the Dvořák Piano Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Ingo Metzmacher. For this Sony Classical release Stadtfeld has now turned to the music of Felix Mendelssohn with selection of scores that feature the First Piano Concerto. I have seen this Mendelssohn release advertised with a bonus disc with Stadtfeld playing four extra pieces: a Schumann work and three Bach pianos arrangements. There was certainly no bonus disc with the release that I was sent.
Mendelssohn completed two mature piano concertos but it is the Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op 25from 1831 that is the most likely to be heard today. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40 written some years later in 1837 is also a fine work and I’m not sure that it deserves its relative neglect. There is also a very early and little known Concerto in A minor for Piano and String Orchestra. Although the autograph score is not dated it was, according to Mendelssohn’s nephew Sebastian Hensel, composed in 1822 when Mendelssohn would have been around 13 years old. Evidently it was performed at one of the Sonntagsmusiken (Sunday musicales) held at the Mendelssohn residence in Berlin. In addition Mendelssohn left an incomplete manuscript of a Third Piano Concerto in E minor from 1842 which has been recorded in a reconstruction prepared by Marcello Bufalini.
It was the twenty-two year old Mendelssohn who performed as soloist when the First Piano Concerto No.1 was premièred in 1831 in Munich. It seems the work was received with great enthusiasm by the Munich audience who included the King and Queen of Bavaria. Here Martin Stadtfeld playing a glorious sounding Steinway Model D makes a splendid case for the G minor score performing with vitality yet with a deep sensitivity when required. I especially enjoyed Stadtfeld’s sparkling playing of real poise and vibrancy in the Finale:Presto. As I expected from such a fine orchestra the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields provide confident support. The sound quality is to a high standard with a lovely ambience. This is a most splendid performance of the G minor Concerto that can stand alongside Murray Perahia’s 1974 London account that also uses the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner on Sony Classics.
The Variations sérieuses,Op. 54 from 1841 is considered by many to be a great masterpiece of Romantic piano music. Mendelssohn wrote it as his contribution to an “Album-Beethoven”, a collection of works by several composers conceived in the hope of raising money for a commemorative Beethoven statue in Bonn. This is a substantial single movement score containing numerous and widely varying emotions. Stadtfeld gives a confident interpretation with playing that encompasses significant elegance and sparkling vivacity creating a sense of brooding mystery and turbulence. I did wonder if the 1861 Blüthner piano that Stadtfeld had chosen was rather holding him back in terms of fluency.
Mendelssohn composed his eight volumes of Songs without Words (Lieder ohne Worte) at various points in his life from 1830/45 with two of the volumes being published posthumously. These short lyrical piano pieces are cleverly designed to be within the compass of pianists of various abilities. Given the quality of these miniature pieces it is hard to believe today that when Novello issued the first volume in 1832 after a year only a few dozen copies had been sold. In this selection of ten Songs Without Words Stadtfeld strikes an ideal balance between poise and stirring expression. I always enjoy hearing pieces from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words especially the Op. 19/1 in E major and Op. 67/4 in C major contained here. Overall I sensed that the Blüthner piano was restricting the crispness of Stadtfeld’s articulation. Both the Variations sérieuses and the selection of pieces from the Songs without Words recorded at the SWR Studio, Kaiserslautern sound a touch bright. In truth I didn’t find the Blüthner piano particularly satisfying - it felt woody, dull and lifeless.
Martin Stadtfeld is a classy pianist who is clearly at home in these delightful Mendelssohn scores with the First Piano Concerto being particularly successful. If you can’t get to hear Stadtfeld performing in concert or recital this disc will provide some recompense.
A classy pianist clearly at home in these delightful scores.
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